Honourable Folks, allow me to start by thanking old pal, Levi Zeleza Manda, for his account of the Rwandan miracle published in the previous issue of Weekend Nation. I’ve talked about Rwanda before, but Manda’s account is by far more detailed.
Machetes were wheezing at the speed of death in Rwanda in 1994. At that time, Malawi, which had already enjoyed “peace and calm, law and order” for 30 years since independence, was in a smooth and peaceful transition from a one-party to a multiparty political dispensation.
The Rwandan genocide—a crescendo of ethnic divisions which have also been a major cause of civil strife elsewhere in Africa—resulted in a loss of 800 000 lives and complete destruction of the fabric that binds people of different tribes together into one nation.
Fast-forward to 2014, 20 years later. Malawi can still brag about “peace and calm, law and order” though tainted somewhat by the incident on July 20 2011 when the police shot dead 20 citizens during a demonstration, spates of violent armed robberies and heightened tension during election times.
We can also boast about being endowed with vast arable land, an expanse of fresh water running across the length of the country from Karonga to Nsanje, some of the world’s most beautiful sites, etc. What Malawi hasn’t done is to use the creative genius of its people to use the country’s natural endowments to create wealth and improve their living standards.
The 85 percent of the population based in rural areas is made of poor, subsistence farmers who use the hoe to till the land, work in their gardens the whole year to produce just a tenth of what farmers in other parts of the world–including Africa—produce in a third of the time.
Instead of modernising farming, using appropriate technology and irrigation where possible, government has opted for giving them fertiliser, seed and, later in the year, flour—spending way over 10 percent of the budget on handouts for the people who also get free education, free medication, etc., from a poor government with a very narrow tax base.
For its survival, the government squeezes the private sector, demanding from it taxes, including VAT on set dates and slap defaulters with penalties, on the one hand, while on its part, defaulting on payments for supplies from the same private sector for months and, at least in the case of medical suppliers, years.
The result is that while the needs for tax revenue are growing by the day, the source of that tax, like Shire River, is losing its capacity to provide enough revenue even for sustaining the current levels of budgetary requirements.
As a result, government is allocating a mere K2 million as a monthly operational budget for Blantyre Police with three sub-stations and close to a dozen units with a mission to protect lives and property in the country’s commercial capital, really?
Even referral hospitals lack basic drugs such as painkillers! Schools lack teaching and learning materials, they don’t even have enough unqualified or under-qualified teachers, many of our roads are in a state of disrepair and civil servants no longer take 27th of the month as payday.
Predictably, corruption in government has now escalated to cashgate as bosses discover that a network with their juniors, bankers and suppliers can even allow the purchase of a fleet of buses by cashing a government cheque fraudulently. We are poor and getting worse by the day.
How about Rwanda? According to Manda, the economy there has been growing at an average of 9.6 percent since 1995, people’s incomes have been growing at 5.5 percent and rural poverty has been declining at the rate of 2.4 percent.
Why the difference, you may ask. The answer is leadership. There is a reason management scholars attribute 80 percent of an organisation’s success or failure to management—the source of strategy or ideas. I submit that there is a relationship between mediocre leadership in Malawi has had since 1994 and the failure of the country to grow its economy and improve the lives of its citizens.
If you agree that it’s worth looking for a Paul Kagame among the candidates who have submitted their papers to the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC), then don’t just vote wisely but go home and tell your folks to vote for good ideas and not splurges or outright bribes that flow like water in election times.